The European Space Agency (ESA) has offered €50m to help launch a small space mission in 2017.
ESA has issued the call for proposals to the European scientific community. The winning proposal will receive €50 million of funding to turn an innovative concept into a reality.
Small space missions are a new concept for ESA which has labelled them "S-class" missions. A small mission must have a development time of not longer than 4 years.
ESA's funding is capped at €50m but this can be topped-up by the winning member state bringing its own funds to the table. The guideline for top-up funding is €100m, allowing for a mission budget of between €50m to €150m.
There are two other types of ESA missions, medium sized missions (M-class) which usually launch on Soyuz rockets, and large missions (L-class) which usually are sent into space aboard the Ariane 5 launcher.
Entrants are invited from the scientific community of the member states of the European Space Agency and can be submitted in partnership with other ESA member states.
Only one small mission will be selected later this year and is likely to be launched on ESA’s Vega rocket.
The call for proposals hopes to encourage novel ideas from scientists, and ESA are keen to place as few restrictions as possible, "allowing the scientific community to bring forward novel ideas and explore approaches complementary to the current components of the ESA Science Programme".
Proposals must state how they fit in with the objectivess of ESA's 2015 - 2025 Cosmic Vision. The Cosmic Vision provides an overall strategy and direction for all of ESA's space missions and has four broad themes:
Planets and life: what are the conditions for planet formation and the emergence of life?
The Solar System: how does the Solar System work?
Fundamental laws: what are the fundamental physical laws of the Universe?
The Universe: how did the Universe originate and what is it made of?
The request for proposals states that the space mission must be ready for launch before 2017.
Professor Mark McCaughrean, head of ESA's Research and Scientific Support Department explained: "We want to hear from innovative people who've got a clever idea that doesn't need a billion or half a billion euros, but can be done with a much smaller amount".
Anyone wishing to submit a proposal before the 15 June 2012 deadline must also submit a letter of intent before 23 March 2012.
ESA is hoping that by downsizing mission costs smaller member states and young scientists will be encouraged to apply. This will also give smaller member states, such as Sweden and Switzerland, a chance to lead missions, which is currently difficult for them to do.
Realistic S-class missions would automatically exclude anything like a trip to Mars, but could focus on a specific type of compact space telescope or a microgravity experiment.
If you want the chance of €50m to fund your space mission ensure the letter of intent is submitted by 23 March 2012.
ESA anticipates selecting a small mission to fund by the end of this year.